Sunday, November 10, 2013

the incredible saga of hedge apples and fear

Saturday about four a.m. and a cold November rain drums on the cabin’s metal roof. A log has flared in the woodstove and firelight dances across the chestnut-stained wood ceiling. Either one or both of these things has awakened me, and I listen and watch as hedge apples and fear run through my mind. They seem to be like apples and oranges. No relation. And that brings up one thing about hedge apples: If the fruit of the Osage orange can be called an apple, how different can apples and oranges be?

The fear from earlier in the week has passed, so I focus on the hedge apple. The funky fruit that is neither an apple nor an orange has been on my mind as an old friend from the Chicago area has been writing about them in his near-daily online “ramble.” These rambles bring together Dale’s morning walk and his rambling mind, and a couple of months ago hedge apples started falling and scattering across his path, something they have been doing, apparently, all his life. Dale and hedge apples have a history, and Dale’s wife believes in hedge apple magic.

So my old friend has been writing about hedge apples. He tells us how many he sees and where he sees them and what shape they are in. He tells us what this might indicate about the weather and the state of the world (though with that last I might be exaggerating), and he provides the occasional hedge apple snapshot. He informs us that every time he picks up a hedge apple to take home to his wife this makes her happy. That, in turn, will make him happy. And we have read tales of hedge apple bowling, which is a fine outdoor activity for kids. What interested me most, though, was the hedge apple’s reputation for repelling household pests. And I wondered: Could hedge apples rid my cabin of cluster flies?

It was, indeed, the dawn of a new cluster fly season when Dale started writing about these magic apples from the orange tree, and even though I had already taken the drastic measure of using poison to kill the flies, there were yet some die-hards creeping in and clustering on the windows, mostly, I noted, between one and five in the afternoon. I thought Dale might send me some hedge apples through the mail so I could experiment with their repellent capabilities, but alas. Some fear of the post office was expressed, of possibly breaking rules, and the hedge apples never arrived. I resigned myself to not experimenting with hedge apples vs. cluster flies and merely continued to enjoy Dale’s reporting on the millions and thousands of hedge apples that he was seeing, that I would never see, could never see, not up here, not so far north, not where the Osage orange does not grow.

Then, all of a sudden, bam. Last Saturday. Hedge apples atop the muffin case. In Babycakes. On Washington Street. In Marquette. Two glowing green hedge apples just sitting there like radiated brains. Where did they come from? How did they get there?

“Hey, did you see these hedge apples?!?”

I had stopped at Babycakes to get a cup of Earl Greyer tea to go. Babycakes is a warm, spit-and-polished-wood-type place with overflowing muffins and scones in a glass case and teas and coffees from around the world displayed behind the counter—the very same counter that has those homemade dog biscuits in a glass jar by the register. Babycakes smells of baked apples, cinnamon, and dark roast, and it always sounds soft and murmury as folks relax at a few small tables and sip and eat and chat and read or stare at electronic devices. Lately when I stop at Babycakes I am so focused on my mission of getting that cup of Earl Greyer to go that I take little notice of all this—except for that one time, that incident with the dog treats—and then, last Saturday, there were the hedge apples, all convoluted and bright appley green sitting on top of the muffin case next to one of those raised cake display things in which, if I remember correctly, there was some kind of pie.

I was standing in a short line and two fellows fell in behind me so I started talking hedge apples. One said he needed some fresh hedge apples as the spiders in his basement were beginning to build up, and the other said he had noticed hedge apples for sale a month or so ago at Econo, a local grocery store.

Say what? Hedge apples at Econo?

So everybody already seems to know all about hedge apples, and you can get them anywhere and everywhere—Econo, Amazon, eBay, and For all I know, Dr. Oz and Dr. Phil have been busy prescribing hedge apples to cure all ills, personal and societal, and Martha Stewart has taken it a step further and shown us how to make centerpieces and wreaths and candle molds from this marvelously textured fruit.

I didn’t have time right then to race over to Econo to see if they still had hedge apples for sale, but later in the week I stopped at the Econo up in my area, in Houghton. I did not see any hedgies. A couple of days later I called the Marquette Econo and spoke with a guy in produce.

“Do you have hedge apples?”


“Hedge apples. I heard that a while back you had hedge apples.”

“You mean hedge balls?”

“Yes, I guess so.”

“We have hedge balls, for the spiders.”

“You do?”

“Yeah. They’re kind of green and bumpy.”

“Yeah. OK. Hedge apples, hedge balls, what’s the difference. How much are they?”

“Ninety-nine cents each.”

“Do you know where they come from? I mean, they don’t grow around here, do they?”

“I don’t know. I think maybe they come from Indiana. Somewhere down there.”

“And you have them now?”

“Yeah. I’m looking at, oh, about three dozen or so right now.”

“Wow. Great. Thank you.”

So on my way to the Winter Market I stop at Econo to get some hedge apples, I mean hedge balls. It is about 9 a.m., and as I take pictures I notice an Econo staffer eyeing me. I ask her about the laminated sign that rests on top of the hedge balls, wanting to know who wrote it because it is written, at least in part, in first person and weaves a tail of “Old-timers in Iowa” and how with toothpicks “us children” would make animals out of hedge balls before “mom” put them around the house to banish spiders. The staffer said she didn’t know who wrote the sign, but she did know that Econo sells a lot of hedge balls. I said I was interested to see if they kept flies away and she said yeah, that would be great. Flies and wasps. Her boyfriend, she said, had got stung by a wasp last night in bed.

I bought six hedge balls and took them to the market with me. They are a little ripe, which is how this woman at Econo described them, but they have a nice citrusy smell with a touch of fresh apple. At the market, some folks knew all about the apples and their anti-spidery qualities; others were hedge ball neophytes. I was happy to share what I knew about hedge apple balls, making sure to clarify that it was all just rumor and innuendo. As far as I know, the effectiveness of these apples in any capacity has not been scientifically tested, and, as we all know, if it ain’t scientifically tested, it just ain’t so.

Now, if you are any kind of regular reader of this journal, you know I have a book called Animal Energies that describes the habits and ways of various animals and extrapolates meaning from those habits and ways that humans might well pay attention to, especially if such-and-such an animal has entered your life in some way. Oh! If only there were a book called Funky Fruit & Vegetable Energies. If there were, I would be looking up Hedge Apple and reading:

If Hedge Apple has entered your life …

Because, as I said, hedge apples and fear were the concurrent thoughts in my head at 4 a.m. and most of the week. The fear passed, and no, it had nothing to do with spiders. It was not nearly so concrete. It was more a state of mind that manifested as fear, grabbing onto bits and snippets of the past, the future, and the right now, and basically sticking to whatever it could to give itself substance. To make it real. And it was astoundingly successful.

If Hedge Apple has entered your life …

Hedge Apple did not banish Fear. If anything, Fear banished Hedge Apple. Fear distracted me, kept me at bay, kept me working hard to work around it, delayed me, pissed me off.

If Hedge Apple has entered your life …

But I couldn’t do anything about it. The fear.

But I did share it.

And that made it better.

But ultimately, I believe, it just righted itself.

If Hedge Apple has entered your life …

Oh. I know what Dale would say.

If Hedge Apple has entered your life, perhaps it is time to see the dichotomy that is inherent to all life and welcome the tension it brings as well as the magic it can create.

Though Dale, I suspect, would say it in far fewer words.